Toxic relationships can come in many different forms. But there are some signs and behaviors to keep an eye out for that may hint at toxicity in a relationship.
Healthy relationships are built on the foundation of traits like respect, honesty, and trust. And as humans, it’s natural for us to struggle with upholding those traits from time to time, even in our most important relationships.
But there are some relationships that lack these traits, like relationships in which one person may engage in behaviors that are harmful or toxic to the other person.
Toxic relationships like these can cause people to feel disrespected and misunderstood, leading to feelings like insecurity and unhappiness. Research has shown that toxic relationships can even lead to mental health conditions, like depression or anxiety.
Toxicity can affect any relationship, whether that’s a family member, friend, partner, or coworker, for example. And while there are many different ways that a relationship can be toxic, here are some of the most common signs of toxic relationships.
1. Your needs aren’t being met
A healthy relationship ensures that everyone’s needs are being met. It also allows each person the space to meet those needs both inside and outside of the relationship.
In a toxic relationship, you might notice that the other person isn’t fulfilling your emotional needs. You may even notice that the relationship itself is causing you to struggle meeting your personal needs outside of it.
2. You’re always in the wrong
Disagreement is a natural part of any relationship, but it’s how you handle that disagreement that can be either healthy or toxic.
Toxic relationships are often filled with frequent disagreement. You might notice that you face constant criticism from the other person, and that they’re frequently negative or act hostile towards you.
3. You don’t feel like their equal
One of the most important aspects of a healthy, thriving relationship is respect. And respect is at the cornerstone of treating your partner as an equal.
When you’re in a toxic relationship, the other person may seek to intentionally put you down or make you feel inferior. In some cases, this inferiority may even come from a lack of self-confidence, which can stem from toxic behaviors like this.
4. You feel like you can’t rely on them
Another important element of a healthy relationship is being able to rely on the other person. And this trait is especially important for close relationships, like with parents.
If the other person is frequently letting you down or making promises they can’t keep, this behavior can become toxic. Sometimes this problem stems from having expectations that don’t align, but not always.
5. You rarely discuss the future
In healthy partner relationships, it’s important to be able to openly communicate your needs and expectations for the future of your relationship.
But a toxic relationship may place these discussions off limits, to the point where your partner may refuse to talk to you about the future at all. You may even notice that bringing up any discussions of the future at all ends in a disagreement or fight.
6. Your outside relationships are suffering
Healthy relationships with others always leave space for us to build and nurture outside relationships with others.
But in a toxic relationship you may notice that your relationships with other people begin to suffer. You might notice that you spend less time with other friends or family. Or they may notice changes in your personality that make it hard to be around you.
7. You’re afraid of the relationship ending
In most healthy partner relationships, the fear of a relationship ending stems from the desire to want to continue being in the relationship.
Toxic relationships, on the other hand, can often leave people feeling stuck in them even if they want to leave. You may notice that you’re unhappy in the relationship, but that you’re afraid of it ending despite you being unhappy and unfulfilled.
8. Your relationship doesn’t make you happy
Speaking of being happy in relationships, healthy relationships make you feel just that –- happy, content, and fulfilled with the other person.
If your relationship makes you unhappy, or even depressed or anxious, it may be a sign that you’re in an unhealthy relationship. You may even have reasons to want to stay, but they’re overshadowed by the unhappiness you feel with this other person.
Abuse vs. toxicity
Toxic relationships aren’t always abusive relationships, but abusive relationships are always toxic. But unlike toxic relationships abusive relationships are often about control. This control leads to toxic behaviors that aim to keep you stuck in the cycle of abuse.
If your partner is toxic to the point where their behaviors have become physically or emotionally controlling, isolating, or otherwise abusive, there’s help available to get you out of the relationship safely. Here are a few resources to consider reaching out to:
If you and your partner are in a toxic relationship, you can learn to address these behaviors and heal your relationship.
One of the first steps is to recognize the toxic behaviors that you and your partner might be engaging in. So, this means having a conversation with your partner about behaviors that have been harmful to you and your relationship.
During this conversation, it can help to practice good communication such as active listening, practicing empathy, and being constructive in your words.
If speaking candidly with your partner about these issues is too difficult or painful, you can also reach out to a professional for support. Not only can a relationship counselor help facilitate healthy communication, but they can also offer helpful advice for addressing and changing toxic behaviors.
Ending a toxic relationship
Ending a toxic relationship can take some planning, especially if it’s a close relationship like a family member, friend, or partner. Here are a few steps you may want to take as you make the decision to move on:
- Identify why you want to leave the relationship: Sometimes a toxic relationship can leave you with doubts about whether the relationship is actually good or not. It can be helpful to be honest with yourself about the reasons you want or need to leave.
- Plan for the changes that you’ll go through: When you’re in a close relationship with someone, it’s natural for various parts of your life to intertwine. Consider handling all of the technical life stuff ahead of time to make the transition easier.
- Give yourself support and time to heal: It can be difficult going through a breakup, even from a toxic partner – so it’s okay if it takes some time for you to adjust. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your support system as you navigate through this adjustment.
Being in a toxic relationship can leave you feeling unhappy and unfulfilled. But as with any complex relationship, it’s not always easy to recognize when a relationship is toxic.
It’s also not easy to leave a toxic relationship, especially when it’s with someone you love. Sometimes it’s possible to stay and fix your relationship, but other times the healthier decision is to end that relationship.
At the end of the day, there’s no right or wrong choice – just the one that works best for you and your needs. But whatever choice you make, just remember that there’s never any shame in reaching out for help and support while you do so.